Tapping into Opportunity: Tackling the Issues

Contributed by

Caron Hawco,

Caron Hawco Group


NLOWE has been making great progress in promoting supplier diversity in this province. We have focused on raising awareness and opening doors to women-owned businesses in both the oil and gas and the mining industries—the two industries that generate some of the largest business opportunities and income in the province.

When I started with the supplier diversity project with NLOWE earlier this year, I was disappointed to learn how seriously under-represented women-owned businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador are in the supply chains of these major industries. I knew it would be low. . . but women-owned businesses made up less than 1 percent of the supply chain, and that was a bit of a shocker for me.

A number of factors contribute to this serious issue:

  • Most women-owned businesses in the province are small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and are primarily microbusinesses with one to three people. This means that they are probably too small and/or lack the capacity or experience required for the procurement processes of large projects. This is probably also impacting their ability to compete for major corporate and government contracts.
  • Female owners often do not have the contacts or networks that typically lead to greater business access.
  • These businesses tend to be “professional services” and may not have the technical offerings often required in the natural resources industries.
  • Women-owned firms face significant challenges because they are more likely to be undercapitalized.
  • The experience and industry exposure requirements to access industry opportunities have created a vicious cycle: these businesses often lack experience and are not exposed to the required industry practices and opportunities. But without access to these industry opportunities, they cannot gain the exposure and experience they need to get in.
  • Few mechanisms exist to bridge this serious gap in experience and knowledge. For instance, there are limited supplier development training opportunities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • Unfortunately, there is an overall lack of data on this matter, as it is difficult to track participation and progress when it comes to supplier diversification. Monitoring on oil and gas projects, for instance, starts on contracts over $250,000. This is often too high a monitoring threshold to track the contracts captured by smaller women-owned businesses.

The conclusion: This is an extremely complex issue that needs to be elevated on the agendas of industry, government, and educational institutions. To categorize this as a gender bias issue is not constructive. Collaboration and a multi-faceted strategy are needed.

With this understanding, NLOWE is working on multiple fronts and has developed a supplier diversity strategy—one we hope will be dynamic and robust enough to tackle the complexity of this issue.

This strategy includes four pillars.

  1. Analyse data
    We need market Intelligence that will help us understand women-owned business in our province (including business models, access issues, sector analysis, etc.) and future marketplace opportunities.
  2. Build capacity through supplier development
    NLOWE will provide opportunities to build capacity and experience. This will involve one-on-one coaching, skills development presentations, resources on the NLOWE website (to be launched early 2017), and workshops on specialized topics. For instance, we recently hosted a fantastic workshop on networking by Carol Bartlett. We will continue to expose members to the industry by leading delegations to conferences. We led a delegation to the Noia conference in June and another delegation to a mining conference in November. We also hope to set up tours of businesses, industrial sites, Memorial University, etc.
  3. Tell the story
    This involves advocacy and promotion: raising awareness about the issue, inviting collaboration, and finding solutions. We are educating our province’s leaders and have met with various levels of the provincial government. We will be collaborating with Memorial University. We have had productive discussions with Noia (the province’s oil and gas industry association), the St. John’s Board of Trade, and Mining NL. We are also raising awareness through public engagement including speeches, articles, and media coverage on supplier diversity.
  4. Lead the change
    Successful supplier diversity initiatives require champions and role models; they need support from high-ranking leaders. We will soon establish an industry advisory committee. We are reaching out to industry leaders and corporations to find ways to facilitate participation of women-owned businesses. We are educating the leaders on the value of a diverse supply chain. We need modern thinkers and leaders who can see how important this issue is to our province and society. We need champions!

To date, the feedback has been positive. The discussions have been open and collaborative. We have been very impressed by those leaders who immediately want to be part of the solution.

These are difficult times for our province. By prioritizing women’s enterprise, we will access an untapped pool of talent. The data is definitive: diverse companies and societies prosper economically. Ultimately, we will all benefit if we can get this issue on the agenda and implement courageous and meaningful change.

Specializing in offshore oil and gas and natural resources, Caron Hawco owns and operates the Caron Hawco Group, a consultancy supporting local, national, and international companies interested in pursuing opportunities and managing their business in Atlantic Canada. With over 20+ years industry experience, as an employee (Statoil), an industry consultant (oil and gas, mining, supply chain, industry associations) and an industry leader (former Chair of noia), Caron has a well established network. She offers expertise in stakeholder management, business development, communications, industrial benefits/regulatory affairs, negotiation, public engagement, public affairs, government relations and facilitation. Caron Hawco is available to answer NLOWE members if they have questions relating to the industry. She can be reached via email at chawco@nlowe.org.

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